IN GOOD COMPANY (2005)
Starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Philip Baker Hall, Clark Gregg, Selma Blair, Frankie Faison, Ty Burrell, Kevin Chapman, Amy Aquino, Zena Grey, Colleen Camp, Lauren Tom, Kate Ellis and Malcolm McDowell.
Screenplay by Paul Weitz.
Directed by Paul Weitz.
Distributed by Universal Pictures. 109 minutes. Rated PG-13.
On paper, it sounds like a pure Hollywood formula comedy. Middle-aged family guy suddenly must handle being demoted in his job and deal with a new boss half his age. To add to the indignity, the new kid on the corporate block who is making his life a misadventure starts dating the man’s college-aged daughter.
Luckily the movies don’t live on paper, because what could seem like a formulaic screenwriting exercise turns out to be one of the best comedies in recent months.
Much of the credit for this must go to writer/director Paul Weitz, who is becoming a pretty impressive comic force. With brother Chris he created American Pie, which was a superior teen sex farce, although people sometimes forget that because it has been dogged by two poor sequels. In 2002, Weitz was deservedly nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for his adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About A Boy.
In Good Company continues his winning streak. It is a film that is naturally funny and yet sometimes surprisingly dramatic. It is a wicked satire of the jungle mentality of the corporate world, but it also has interesting things to say about the generation gap. Even an ending which feels just slightly overly poked and prodded by focus-groups can’t ruin the good feelings the movie inspires.
Dennis Quaid plays Dan Foreman, the downsized exec. Dan runs the advertising at Sports America, the top athletic mag in the country. He’s an old-school salesman, he recognizes that relationships and having a good product will bring the clients. More importantly, he also knows the importance of leaving his job at the office. When he punches out, he returns to his beautiful Connecticut home and enjoys what is really most important to him; his wife (Marg Helgenberger) and two daughters (Scarlett Johansson and Zena Grey.)
Things change for him quickly when the magazine is sold to a huge conglomerate run by a Rupert Murdoch-esque tycoon, played by an uncredited Malcolm McDowell in a funny cameo. In the eyes of the new corporation, Dan is a dinosaur. They are much more interested in a slash-and-burn, survival-of-the-fittest type of workplace. Any employee who doesn’t meet their inflated expectations is shown the door.
The corporation gives his position to Carter Duryea (Topher Grace of That 70s Show), an up-and-comer who has never worked in ad sales, but opened eyes as a moneymaker by coming up with the idea of dinosaur-shaped cell phones to target the preschool market. Cell phones, magazine advertising, what’s the difference? Carter recognizes that he is in over his head, though, and despite pressure from upstairs, he decides to keep Dan on as his “wingman.”
Carter’s business life may be going well, but his personal life is falling apart. His wife of seven months (Selma Blair) leaves him. He tells a complete stranger in the elevator that he is scared shitless, and it turns out to be Dan’s older daughter Alex. When he decides on a new power job indulgence, a brand-new Porsche convertible, he wrecks the sports car on the way out of the dealership. His only life is in the office. He tries to make friends of his new co-workers, but with each of them fearing for their jobs, no one is overly forthcoming. Carter thinks nothing about asking his employees to come into work on Sunday, because if he has nothing better to do, he assumes that they wouldn’t either. Even his only pet, a goldfish, won’t pay attention to him.
Dan wants to quit; however, he has just found out that he is about to become a father again at 51. Also, daughter Alex has decided to transfer colleges from SUNY to the much more expensive NYU. Dan has to take a second mortgage on the house. He realizes that he must keep his job if he wants to take care of his family. So, he tries to smile and swallow the indignities of his position and watches as his employees… his friends… lose their jobs one by one.
In his loneliness, Carter weasels a dinner invite to Dan’s home. He envies Dan’s life, and he also finds himself drawn to Dan’s daughter. The two of them start a clandestine relationship based mostly on their mutual neuroses. Alex has always felt like a bit of an outcast, does not realize that she is attractive and seems very confused by what she wants in life.
Johansson is terrific as Alex, as always, in a bit of a supporting role. Still, she is able to tap on the complexities and insecurities of the character. Grace is also very charming in the role of Carter – a basically good man who finds himself acting badly because of his situation. However, as good as they are, the film is anchored by the craggy presence of Quaid. In Good Company is a reminder that when he gets a good script, Quaid is as good as it gets. (Even in bad scripts like Cold Creek Manor and The Day After Tomorrow he always rises above the material.)
In a time when so many films are so deadly serious, it is kind of nice to find a film that can make you laugh as well as think. Bonus points given for not having a single toilet gag. Right about now, we need more movies like In Good Company. (1/05)
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 21, 2005.